In terms of longevity, singularity, creativity and, occasionally, sheer obstinacy, Neil Young is Bob Dylan’s only true rival among the ranks of ’60s survivors. After leaving Buffalo Springfield, he went solo in 1968, producing an uncharacteristically baroque debut. The following year he began a lifelong association with Crazy Horse, who helped him create the ragged guitar sound that was to become his trademark. He also reunited with his old Springfield sparring partner Stephen Stills in CSNY, although clashing egos meant that after 1970s’s Deja Vu it was another 18 years before the quartet made another studio album.
When the mellow After The Gold Rush (1970) and Harvest (1972) appeared to bracket him with the Jackson Browne/James Taylor school of gentle troubadourism, Young took flight, famously declaring that when you’re in the middle of the road, it’s time to head for the ditch. There followed a series of demon-baring albums that scared away many of the fans who’d bought into “Heart of Gold” – exactly as he had intended.
By the late ’70s it was clear there were several different and sometimes conflicting Youngs as he switched dazzlingly between melodic pop, dark introspection, guitar hero histrionics and country-rock. In the ’80s his eclecticism veered towards losing the plot, as he produced a series of genre records that dabbled in electronics, heavy metal, rockabilly and R&B with wildly vacillating degrees of success.
By the end of the decade he had returned to form and favour and into the ’90s he appeared to find a more satisfying way of combining his varied musical interests, finally following up Harvest two decades on with the acoustic Harvest Moon, reuniting with Crazy Horse and reaching an entire new generation of fans when he teamed up with Pearl Jam on Mirror Ball.
His most recent album, 2003’s Greendale, was a concept that only partly worked but once again illustrated his determination not to repeat himself.